Should we require harassment claims be in writing?

Q. Our new plant manager wants me to revise our sexual harassment policy to require that complaints be in writing. He says this will formalize the procedure and help ensure that only valid complaints are filed. I don’t think this is a good idea. Is it?

A. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, an employer can be held liable for sexual harassment by supervisors even when the employer didn’t know about the conduct. If the harassing conduct is by a co-worker, the employer can also be held liable if it knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take appropriate corrective action.

If an employer has a sexual harassment policy that it enforces, that can provide a defense if an employee fails to follow the procedure and make a timely report.

For these reasons, employers must investigate and address all complaints of sexual harassment, whether they’re made orally or in writing. Limiting investigations and corrective action to situations where the complaint is in writing falls short of an employer’s obligation under these laws and can create an unnecessary risk of liability.

One other suggestion while you are rewriting your policy: Make sure it covers harassment based on any protected status, e.g., age, disability, national origin, religion, race or color, not just sexual harassment.